This article has been written by Ipsita Rout from KIIT School of Law and has been curated by Yashasvi Kanodia from NMIMS Kirit P. Mehta School of Law.
The word inmate means any individual who is held in custody in prison or jail because he/she has committed an act prohibited by the law of the land. A prisoner who is also identified as an inmate is anyone who is disadvantaged of liberty against their will. Through forceful restraint or confinement, this freedom can be deprived. The rights of prisoners deal with the rights of prisoners behind bars. Prisoners have fundamental legal rights that cannot be taken away from them. The fundamental rights umbrella the right to food and water, the right to have a lawyer defending them, the right to protect themselves from torture, violent acts and cultural harassment. The term prisoner is defined by Section 1 of the Prison Security Act, 1992. As a result of any necessity imposed by a court or otherwise to be placed under arrest in legal custody, the word prisoner means any person who is in prison for the time being.
VIOLENCE WITHIN BARS
Violence and coercion between prisoners in many countries can lead to serious health risks, either directly or indirectly. Physical assaults – even murders – can occur in remand prisons, and sometimes even in colonies. Assaults take place between prisoners and prison guards, and even further between prisoners themselves. Violence amongst prisoners – and in particular, sexual misconduct – is widely underreported, as an inbuilt “omertà” seems to be common in the prison environment.
There are many causes of violence in prison settings. Clashes can have ethnic causes, or rivalries between tribes or gang members. Closed, often vastly congested living conditions also lead to conflict between prisoners. The tiresome prison environment-a lack of mind and body occupation and just plain boredom-leads to accumulated struggles and tensions. This environment leads to high-risk activities such as drug use, sexual activity between men, tattooing and other “blood brotherhood” themed activities.
Some people indulge in these tasks to combat boredom. Others, however, are required to engage in coercive power or monetary gain. Risky lifestyles can lead to the spread of diseases from prisoner to prisoner and if uncontrolled, present a severe risk to public health. Brutality in prison systems makes unsafe contact with human blood possible. Fortunately, HIV contamination due to exposure to open wounds has been reported to be extremely low.
Prisoners have the right to be shielded from these dangerous conditions in prison and to demand the authorities to safeguard them from physical and sexual abuse. This right goes beyond the right to apply for detention in safe isolation. Prison administrations should be in a position to maintain a secure atmosphere for the general population without having to resort to such drastic steps, by having skilled personnel in adequate numbers.
HUMAN RIGHTS AND PRISON INMATES
All humans, and this obviously includes inmates, have some unalienable rights, which are recognized by universally recognized instruments. Human rights have been validated and enshrined in treaties and agreements ever since the Second World War. In 1948, the United Nations General Assembly ratified the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Later two treaties were adopted by the international Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) as well as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). They note that prisoners have rights even though they are stripped of their liberty in detention. Primarily, the ICCPR contends that all individuals deprived of their liberty should be viewed with humanity and honour for the intrinsic dignity of the human person.
In 1955, in its Standard Minimum Rules for the Safety of Prisoners (SMR), the United Nations developed requirements that include principles for the provision of health care in detention. The 94 rules in the SMR setting out the minimum standards for prisoners were accepted by the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, which expanded their scope in 1977 to individuals detained without charge, i.e., in locations other than prisons. Over the years, these standard minimum standards for the security of persons in custody have been complemented by additional instruments. The United Nations ratified the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in 1984. In 1985, the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Regulation of Juvenile Justice, called the “Beijing Rules,” was introduced for the safety of youth offenders. In 1988 and 1990, the United Nations adopted the Framework of Principles for the Security of All Persons under any form of Custody or Jail and the Fundamental Principles for the Care of Prisoners. At the regional level, the European Prison Rules were established by the Council of Europe in 1987.
Traditionally, regard for even fundamental human rights has been an issue in prisons. In Europe in particular, substantial efforts have been made to shield prisoners from abuses of their basic rights, as shown, for example, by the European Convention against Torture. The Council of Europe has developed a formal body, it is the Committee to Prevention of Torture and Cruel or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, known as the CPT, to monitor ill-treatment and circumstances of prisoners, including health issues. Many other non-governmental organizations are now tracking prison conditions, in particular all aspects of prison health.
The Supreme Court of the United States in Manna v. the people of Illinois argued that life is not simply an animal nature. The souls behind the bar cannot be denied the same thing. The rights granted by Article 21(Right to Liberty of Life) are for every citizen, and even the State could not deny them. Prisoners also have all the rights that a free man has under some constraints. Only being in jail should not strip them of their human rights.